Monday, March 12, 2012

Involuntary Simplicity: Living with Less

If you had four weeks to pare down your possessions by more than a third, what would you keep and what would you let go? What are your essential possessions? What can you do without? What should you have released years ago?

Three months ago, I had to unburden myself of a third of what I owned when I was laid off from my job and was forced to immediately sell my house before it became a short sale.

My friend Wess Daniels, a released Quaker minister, referred to my circumstances as "involuntary simplicity." This is the polar opposite of the intentional simplicity practiced by devout Quakers. He was spot on in describing my circumstances.

Thankfully, I sold my house and was able to pay off the mortgage. A week before Christmas, I moved from a four-bedroom, 2,400-square-foot house to a one-bedroom, 650-square-foot apartment. It has one closet.

We had lived in the house for a decade. The basement, garage and three enormous attics were crammed with "stuff and junk," to borrow a term from Lydia, my Swedish grandma.

The task of downsizing was daunting. It also was enormously freeing. What didn't fit in the new apartment would be packed into a storage unit.

Did I really want to pay to store boxes of my son's favorite toys? Over the course of birthdays and Christmases he had amassed a collection of very large toys with piles of accessories: a pirate ship, a castle, a cowboy Western town, a Robin Hood set and enough Star Wars action figures to populate a toy store.

If my son were still a little boy, I would have kept all of his toys. But he is nineteen, and said he didn't need to keep any of his old toys. I kept one of the large playsets and most of the Star Wars action figures. My mom helped me box up the rest and I drove it to the homeless shelter. It was mid-December, and some kids at the shelter would be delighted on Christmas morning.

These kinds of decisions had to be made hundreds of times. Why was I keeping my cross-stitching patterns and supplies when my eyes hadn't been able to focus on the detail work for years?

Why was an entire shelf in my kitchen storing a gaudy set of 1960s china that had been passed down from two previous generations? I had never used it, and my daughter didn't want it either. Donate!

As dozens and dozens of boxes and bags were carried out of the house to be donated, I began to feel unburdened. Lighter. Able to think clearer.

Three months after downsizing, I still keep a donation box by the front door. As I continue to sift through belongings, I fill a box with what I no longer need and drop it off  at the American Cancer Society thrift shop, where the ladies know me and my story by now.

I vow to never let "stuff and junk" take over my life again. Before I bring anything new into my apartment, I get rid of something I already own.

A few years ago, before these big changes in my life, I dreamed that my family was forced to evacuate our house and could take only what we could carry. My arms were piled with useless stuff, including my humungous "Betty" doll from childhood. I am embarrassed to say that at that point, I was still holding onto Betty, who was stored in a box in the basement.

What a struggle it was for me to take just a few steps with all this stuff in my arms! I kept dropping stuff and was in despair about trying to determine what was important enough to tote around with me.

I no longer have that dream.

1 comment:

  1. Mike is always harking back to the days when "everything I owned could fit in the trunk of the car." My stuff used to lap over into the back seat, but when I was a VISTA volunteer, there wasn't much. If there was a fire I'd grab my thumb drive, the dogs, and a few pictures. Oh, yeah, and maybe that bottle of rum.